Asia

Profile: Anwar Ibrahim

  • 10 February 2015
  • From the section Asia
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (R) and his wife Wan Azizah (L) arrive at the court of appeal in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur on 6 March 2014
Image caption Anwar Ibrahim says Malaysia must mature as a democracy

Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim is well aware of the perils and pitfalls of political life.

Mr Anwar, 67, once belonged to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN, National Front) coalition, but a falling out with top leaders resulted in him being beaten, jailed and disgraced.

Then came a political comeback, with him leading the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance into general elections in 2013.

This three-party alliance posed the strongest-ever challenge to the coalition, which has governed Malaysia for more than half a century.

But it could not defeat BN - which won 133 of the 222 seats in parliament, its worst-ever election performance. The opposition won 89 seats, up from 82 - and protested that the polls were hit by fraud.

In March 2014, Mr Anwar's legal troubles returned. A court overturned an earlier acquittal for sodomy - illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia - in response to a government appeal.

The move happened days before Mr Anwar was due to contest a by-election in a key state.

Mr Anwar launched a final appeal but the court upheld the original five-year sentence and he has been jailed for five years.

Quick ascent

Image caption The efforts of Mr Anwar's alliance were not enough to unseat the ruling coalition in last year's elections

Mr Anwar first made his name as a student leader of a youth Islamic organisation, founding Malaysia's Islamic youth movement, ABIM.

His joining Malaysia's dominant party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), in 1982 came as a surprise to many but proved to be a good political move - he enjoyed a quick ascent up the political ladder and held multiple ministerial posts.

In 1993 he became Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's deputy and was widely expected to succeed him, but tensions grew between the two men, particularly over issues like graft and the economy.

In September 1998, Mr Anwar found himself sacked and eventually charged with sodomy and corruption.

The trial which followed led to a six-year jail term for corruption and also sparked huge street protests.

In 2000 he was then found guilty of sodomy with his wife's driver and jailed for a further nine years, to be served concurrently with his other sentence.

While homosexual acts are illegal in Malaysia, very few people are ever prosecuted. Mr Anwar has always maintained the charges were part of a political smear campaign.

In late 2004 Malaysia's Supreme Court overturned the sodomy conviction, freeing him from jail.

Image caption Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition won 133 of the 222 seats in parliament in May 2013 polls

'Shared policy'

Upon his release, he emerged as the de facto head of a newly-invigorated opposition that registered a strong showing in the 2008 elections.

The opposition gained more than a third of parliamentary seats and control of five states, partly due to public discontent over corruption and discrimination issues.

But claims of sodomy were again made against Mr Anwar in 2008, in what he said was another attempt by the government to sideline him.

A High Court eventually cleared Mr Anwar of the charges in January 2012, citing a lack of evidence.

In the 2013 general election, Mr Anwar led the opposition into what was seen as the country's most hotly-contested polls to date.

The three-party opposition comprised Mr Anwar's multi-racial party, a secular Chinese-majority party and a conservative party of Muslim Malays.

The Pakatan Rakyat promised bold changes, including doing away with race-based policies that it says breed corruption and hamper economic growth. It instead pushed for a more competitive system based on merit.

The alliance also said it was seeking to end monopolies in certain sectors and free up civil liberties.

This played well with young voters, in cities and with Chinese voters - but in the end was not enough to unseat the ruling coalition, who Mr Anwar accused of electoral fraud.

Mr Anwar says that his latest jailing will not stop his supporters.

"They will continue with or without Anwar. No-one is indispensable," he said.

"Authoritarian leaders always believe the best way to deal with dissidents is to jail them, but throughout history, it has always backfired."